You've practiced your vocal technique. You've practiced your songs. You've practiced your performance. So, don't forget to practice your AUDITIONING! It's easy to forget that Auditioning is really its own skill. While there are similarities between performance and Audition situations, there are also key differences. In Auditions, you're usually in front of a few strangers who you can see in a well-lit room. The acoustics of the Audition often vary from where you rehearsed. The Audition accompanist may not play your music like you expected. All of these variables and more make Auditioning a very different experience than performing. So, try simulating the audition experience as much as you can as you prepare. And most importantly, make sure that you Audition A LOT until the skill of Auditioning becomes as exciting as opening night!
Have you ever tried singing a song you learned many years ago? It's no easy task! Why? Because the muscle memory of how you first sang the song will still be there - even though your technique has grown. The good news is that there are strategies for "relearning" old songs and making them new. Try starting with the last page and practice the phrases in backwards order. Or, try singing the notes without any words or reciting the words without notes. Experiment singing in a silly "character voice" or two before returning to normal. Sing the song in a few different keys or in a few different tempos. However you choose to dust off the vocal cobwebs, you can find success in RE-discovering a new "old favorite"!
What does it mean to bring your sound "FORWARD"? This term is thrown around a lot in vocal lingo. Unfortunately, it's not very specific and can get confusing for many singers. "Forwardness" usually means to make the resonance of the voice (i.e. formants) "brighter". However, there are several different ways to do this. You could raise the larynx. You could widen the lips. You could increase the nasal resonance. You could lift the tongue's base. You could add "Twang". All of these things make the sound more "Forward". So, if someone tells you to bring your sound more "forward", then maybe you can ask them to be more specific. Or, maybe you can be more specific yourself by only adding the "forward" elements that help your voice best come forth!
Think for a moment about what happens when you blow into a bottle - a pitch is created! Larger bottles resonate lower pitches and smaller bottles resonate higher pitches. Our vocal tract (throat), is like these bottles in terms of resonance. As singers, we can change the size of our vocal tracts for better resonance throughout our range. We can alter vowels to resonate more efficiently in certain ranges where they may not naturally resonate so well. This is the basis for what is known as Vowel Modification. Vowel Modification often gets a bad rap because it's often exaggerated, making vowels sound strange and affected. The key to Vowel Modification is to fine-tune your resonance over time so that a clearer sound is made with less effort, while still maintaining intelligibility with your lyrics. Enjoy this vocal message-in-a-bottle!
In singing, it's not right or wrong that matters - it's what's right for YOU! Anyone who thinks there's only one right way to sing need only open their eyes (and ears) to the plenty of "wrong" singers who have achieved great success. How many musicians' greatest hits were originally rejected for not fitting the mold? How many amazing vocalists stood out because they weren't doing what they were "supposed" to do? Even singers who use their voices in unhealthy or potentially harmful ways can achieve great joy or professional success. So, while we always want to strive for the healthiest and most sustainable technique possible, we also have to understand that there is something far bigger than what's "proper". How you choose to make art is your choice and yours alone. Your artistry, your soul, and your voice are never right or wrong - only right or wrong for YOU!
If you could do only ONE thing to improve your singing posture and alignment, what should it be? Lift your STERNUM! The Sternum is your breastbone located in the center of the chest. Try an experiment - elevate your Sternum. Make sure to not move or tense any other muscles. Just lift the Sternum only. What do you notice? Your shoulders fall gently to the sides. Your neck lengthens. Your forehead moves forward while your jaw moves back. In other words, you achieve ideal singing posture - simply by focusing on ONE thing! So, the next time you're looking for ways for your posture to get good (and fast!), just make the Sternum rise to #1 on your list!
Should you look UP when you sing? Usually, this is considered a bad vocal habit when we're starting out as singers. However, there are actually some real benefits later on! We should always avoid jutting or lifting the chin out to the point of unwanted tension in the jaw and neck. However, a slight elevation of the chin and face on higher notes can be helpful. First, it can optimize the resonance by raising the first formant. Next, it can recruit the StyloPharyngeal muscles that assist the pitch-raising muscles (CricoThyroids) in stretching the vocal folds. Lastly, it just looks aesthetically awesome when singers do it well! While it's certainly not the solution for higher notes, this trick can lead to increased vocal freedom in the upper ranges. Things are looking up!
Want to sing powerful high notes with more freedom? Then LEAN BACK! Okay, so maybe posture from "The Matrix" movie isn't ideal for singing, but THINKING about leaning back can really help. Singing high with Chest Voice and Chest Dominant Mix can sometimes cause your beautiful, tall singing posture to wilt and weaken. The upper abdominals tighten, the shoulders slump down, the neck collapses, and the jaw thrusts forward. Instead of letting that forward pull get the best of you, use a gentle BACKWARDS LEAN to counter these tendencies. Glide your head back, bring the ears over your shoulders, and softly tug your shoulders back and down. LEAN BACK and you'll notice that your voice instantly GOES FORTH!
Have you ever sang from your THIRD EYE? The "Third Eye" is located in the middle of the forehead, slightly above the eyebrows. For thousands of years - awareness of this spot has been a way to DEEPEN our consciousness, CONNECT to our souls, and FOCUS our minds. Singers have also long noticed a connection to this place. Higher notes are often felt in the Third Eye because the need for Head and Nasal resonance increases. When you observe elite singers in action, you will often notice that there is intense energy and focus between the eyebrows - even without lifting or tensing them. So, start seeing through new eyes and singing from new places! Guiding your sound toward your Third Eye will help add FOCUS to your voice, your mind, and your soul!
You've got TWO Options. Option 1 - hold back the breath with the VOCAL FOLDS. Option 2 - hold back the breath with BODY. When we take an inhalation into our ribs and belly, we've taken an ideal singing breath. From there, though, the difficulty often begins. Sending air too forcefully towards the vocal folds causes tension and strain. With Option 1, the vocal folds and the larynx will have to hold back this air. With Option 2, the muscles of the torso create resistance so that the air doesn't exit the body too quickly. This assures that the vocal folds receive their small, steady stream of air. "Breath Support" like this allows them to vibrate freely and naturally without bearing the brunt of the breath's force. Efficient airflow leads to great control of your voice. From there, you won't just have TWO Options. You'll have INFINITE Options!
Singing Country music is much more than just TWANGING things up with a southern accent! Country singers are some of the most versatile singers in today's music industry. Some stylistic elements that can help you master your Country sound are the use of vocal fry, registrational agility (switching quickly between head/mix/chest), compression control (breathy/clean/raspy), scoops, riffs, falloffs, high mixed belting, straight tone, and vibrato. Country music is also very lyric-driven and often emotional and theatrical. So, be sure to really connect on a deep level to your songs. Then, you'll be ready for "three chords and the truth"... and some mighty fine singin'...
Want to adjust the Larynx without even thinking about it? Try thinking about your BREATH sometimes instead of your Larynx. While it's helpful to adjust the Larynx directly, sometimes adjustments are better made indirectly. When you take a breath deep in the body, the larynx actually drops a little bit automatically. This slightly lowered position allows for greater resonance and looser vocal folds. Not to mention that a low breath sets you up for optimal breath support. While good vocal technique often asks us to isolate different components of our instrument, it's also great for them to work together. Let your low breath and your low larynx work in harmony!
Have a CRITICAL ear, but not a JUDGMENTAL one! So often while practicing our singing we judge ourselves. Maybe the best example is that awkward moment when our voice "breaks" or "cracks". It's common to fear this moment so much that we try to avoid it at all costs. Yet, don't let moments like these hinder you! These are actually the exact moments that can teach us how our voices really work. It's essential to make the sounds that we DISLIKE in order to achieve the vocal coordinations that we NEED! So, be careful to not sing "PRETTY" or to only make sounds that your ears approve of. Every sound, good or bad, is another step on the journey toward your vocal best!
"How do ye go from note to note? Let me count the ways!" The next time you're listening to an amazing Riff or vocal improvisation, notice how the singer goes to and from notes. Some musical lines flow smoothly from one note to the next. Others include scoops, slides, or big leaps. Still others have grace notes, repeated accents on one note, or double or triple turns around a note. Each kind of musical movement has its own challenges. And, different movements are easier or harder for different singers. But no matter what you choose, a wide variety of movement gives your Riffs their sparkle, their character, and their life! Want your Riffs to love thee? Practice ALL the ways!
Ever feel frustrated trying to decide which Vocal Register you're in? Is it "Head Voice" or "Falsetto"? "Chest Voice" or "Mix"? All of these terms are helpful, but also can be very confusing! Instead of getting stuck on figuring out how to correctly NAME the registers, be open to the idea of INFINITE registers! There are actually an unlimited number of tone qualities that can be achieved by combining different percentages of each register. Experiment with bringing a little more "Chest" into that "Head Voice", for example. By freeing yourself of the need for EXACT labels, you can explore nuances of Vocal Registration without overthinking it!
Do you know how your body achieves RELAXATION? It's through a slow, steady exhalation! Think about someone who is experiencing a panic attack. Do they need to take a deep breath? No! They actually have TOO MUCH air in their lungs. What they need to do is to exhale their breath slowly and steadily. This goes for any time we need to relax. All we need to do is take a moment to release our air in a gentle stream. So, perhaps now you understand why singing has so many health benefits and makes you feel so great! It's because all good singing is done on a slow, steady exhale! Singing makes you RELAX better… and relaxing makes you SING better! Aaaaah...
If a song isn't right for you, find out WHY. Many of us have songs in our books that we love to sing, but that teachers or casting directors say "just aren't right for you." When this happens, be sure to ask your listeners WHAT about the song makes them feel that way. Is the problem technical: the song highlights an uncomfortable part of your voice or doesn't allow you to show off your best vocal skills? Maybe it's emotional: the song may seem downtrodden when your natural energy is more buoyant. Or, perhaps the song has a worldliness that your innocence seems to work against. However true or false this feedback may feel to your personal instincts, it can help you learn a lot about yourself as a performer and guide you to material that absolutely IS right for you!
MENTHOL. Who doesn't love it? It offers a cooling sensation, it has an invigorating feel, and it smells good! We've all been there... we have a cold and start coughing. So, we grab a cough drop with menthol, rub a menthol cream on the chest at night, or even use steamers with menthol steam. But, what many people don't know is that menthol can have adverse effects for you as a singer! Although the cooling sensation of menthol can feel good, it also has a NUMBING effect and DRYING effect on our vocal folds. These two things certainly don't bode well for our singing. When we're feeling sick we want to be very much AWARE of how our throat and vocal folds are feeling, not the opposite! So, when you're looking for throat lozenges be sure to look for drops with honey. Drop the menthol and reach for the HONEY!
Can you move your Tongue and Jaw INDEPENDENTLY of one another? This is a very important vocal skill. Test it out by trying a G or K sound with the back of your Tongue. When you form these consonants, does your Jaw tighten? Or, is your tongue free to articulate them? Next, try an N or L sound with the front of your Tongue. The same should be true and the Jaw should remain loose. These simple consonant tests will reveal whether or not your Jaw and Tongue have been inappropriately coupled. Keeping the Jaw loose as your Tongue articulates will create new possibilities of freedom for your singing and ESPECIALLY for your songwork!
"Not all who wander are lost!" In fact, this is the key to finding your voice! Singing is less like walking down a straight road and more like WANDERING through a beautiful expansive park. We must wander around on many different paths - sometimes looping backward - sometimes going off in a totally unexpected direction - sometimes veering from the path and having to climb back on. The more you wander and get lost, the more you learn your way around. Your voice is not a destination at the end of some narrow path you force yourself to walk upon. You are already in the park. You just have to learn your way around more. Thinking this way will free you from rigid mindsets and will make your practicing a "walk in the park"!
We often forget that casting directors WANT us to succeed at auditions! In the back of our minds we think, "They don't want me"..."They don't like how I sound"..."I'm wasting their time." It's important to remember that casting directors DO want you to succeed because their job DEPENDS on it. They would LOVE to have too many amazing singers to choose from. This just means that their production is going to prosper since they've found droves of wonderful people for its success! You only have a couple minutes to show who you are and what you've got. Will you allow negative thoughts to take over? Or, will you walk into that room believing that your gifts and your JOY are in high demand? If you remember that you are WANTED - you'll start to change your energy and confidence in the audition room!
Everyone knows that if you want to make it in the Music Industry, you've got to have CONNECTIONS! But, for most of us, that seems very discouraging. We don't have an uncle who is the President of Sony Records or a cousin who won a Grammy. Yet, we can still take heart! "Connections" are not always these obvious examples. In fact, they RARELY are. Connections will happen to you naturally if you are dedicated to your craft and respectful to everyone in the industry. Your colleagues, your teachers, the people you meet at auditions - all of them can become Connections. The stage manager, the sound person, the custodian - also Connections. You truly never know who will be the one to open a huge door for your career. Remember - Connections aren't something you HAVE, they are something you MAKE. That's why it's called "making CONNECTIONS!"
HEAR what you FEEL! At NYVC, we always encourage our students to record their Voice Lessons. Listening back to these recordings is an important part of understanding how what you FEEL connects to what your listeners HEAR. When you're practicing at home, recording is an important discipline as well. Especially if you're developing a new skill or rehearsing a song. Once you've finished a song or exercise, listen back objectively and evaluate what you heard. This will help you progress faster and will make you a better self-teacher. As a bonus, when you're listening to other singers, you'll naturally begin to understand the mechanics behind how they make their sounds as well. HEAR what you FEEL!
"Am I a good enough ACTOR?" Often, singers doubt their Acting skills or don't consider themselves to be gifted in this area. However, bringing your Acting to life as a singer isn't about trying to perfect your Acting chops. Rather, it's about simple COMMUNICATION. If your audience can clearly understand what you are saying, what story you are telling, and the journey that you are going through - then they will FEEL the emotion of the song. Overacting actually comes from doing too much "ACTING". So, keep your focus on being specific with the story you are communicating at each moment. You'll be amazed how the Acting somehow takes care of itself!
You've probably noticed that the ACOUSTICS of a room can change the way your voice sounds. Don't we all sound lovely in the shower? Reverberations of sound against different materials and across varying spaces affect the way our voices resonate. If we practice in a small carpeted room every day and then go audition on a large wooden stage, we might end up confused and thrown off. We often sing differently when we perceive that our voice sounds differently. The best way to combat this problem is to practice in a wide variety of settings. Monitor the vocal adjustments you make in each environment. Then, when you do find yourself in a space with poor acoustics, you'll trust your training and you won't overcompensate! Don't just sing in one place. Sing EVERYWHERE!
Are you going through a PHASE? Most great artists in history have gone through different creative phases. For example, Picasso had his famous Blue Period. The Beatles had their Psychedelic phase. Creating Art is a lifelong journey and so it's natural to gravitate toward certain styles or habits as you explore and experiment. If your heart is drawing you to a particular style, singer, or artist - follow it! Spend a few weeks or months - or even years - learning Michael Jackson's songs, exploring your range, or singing your favorite Jazz saxophone solos. A deeper understanding of any one element of your artistry makes your whole artistry all the better. So, don't just do what you think you're "supposed" to do as singer. Go with your own creative flow. Embrace your PHASE!
Why do we practice proper posture in Voice Lessons when in reality we'll be dancing, sitting, crouching, or even laying down when we perform? Well, consider an ATHLETE. They aren't running marathons on a treadmill or competing on how much they can stretch their hamstrings. They are conditioning the body in optimal ways so that it can do many things on the court, track, or field. Similarly, when we do vocal exercises, we're conditioning our vocal and postural muscles to perform optimally on the stage or in the recording studio. Start thinking of the Vocal Studio as your GYM and the stage as your FIELD. Without becoming rigid - stand up straight, keep the back of your neck long, and your sternum lifted. If you've trained your body under these controlled conditions, your voice will have an advantage when it comes time to perform in any situation!